Syrian opposition group seeks central role at unity talks

November 07, 2012 - 4:54:59 am

DOHA: The head of Syria’s main opposition group abroad said yesterday that it should retain a “central role” in any unified front against President Bashar A Assad, possibly complicating unity efforts among the Syrian leader’s opponents.

Factions in the Syrian National Council (SNC) are jostling for influence before talks in Qatar tomorrow on uniting exile opposition groups with rebels fighting in Syria, in a drive to gain international support and arms to pursue the struggle. But early signs of internal rifts at the Qatar talks cast doubt on the latest quest for opposition unity.  

“We will go to this meeting (on Thursday) with an open heart and mind but we affirm the need to maintain the central role of the SNC in the opposition,” SNC leader Abdulbaset Sieda told an SNC conference here. “We see that any action that targets the SNC, with or without realising it, will extend the life of the regime.”

Tomorrow’s meeting will discuss a proposal by influential dissident Riad Seif, who is an SNC member, to form a new 50-member civilian group that will later choose a temporary government and coordinate with the military wing of the revolt

At a four-day meeting in Qatar before tomorrow’s talks, the  SNC has sought to revamp itself by expanding its membership to 420 from about 300 to include more political and revolutionary groups. But critics said the changes were cosmetic. The SNC, which wants 22 of the 50 seats in Seif’s proposed assembly, plans to elect a new executive committee and leader today.

In Damascus, bombings, clashes and air strikes shook Syria as British Prime Minister David Cameron said he would back giving safe passage to Assad if it meant ending the bloodshed. 

Asked what he would say if Assad asked for a safe exit, Cameron told Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV: “Done. Anything, anything to get that man out of the country and to have a safe transition in Syria. Of course, I would favour him facing the full force of international law and justice for what he’s done. I am certainly not offering him an exit plan to Britain but if wants to leave, he could leave, that could be arranged.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 131 people had been killed nationwide. Gunmen assassinated Mohammed Osama Al Laham, brother of the speaker of parliament, in Damascus’s Midan district.